Talking in the Here and Now: Reference and Politeness in Alzheimer Conversation

  • Boyd H. Davis
  • Cynthia Bernstein


We first met “Larry Wilcox” in December, 1999, and learned something of him throughout 2000 and 2001, the two years during which we conversed with him, and on which we base this case study of reference and politeness in Alzheimer conversation. Some of our conversations were short and some were shorter — Wilcox was not loquacious. Indeed, staff in the Alzheimer’s unit at Pleasant Meadows, a private retirement and assisted living facility in Charlotte, NC, had initially wondered whether he could be sufficiently talkative with strangers to be a conversation partner. We were told that he was in his early 80s, diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s Disease, no longer formally assessed, but in the process of moving from moderately severe to severe cognitive decline. We attempted to get a baseline for cognition by administering the Seven-Minute Screen (Solomon et al. 1998), but he stopped the test two-thirds of the way through, and refused for the rest of our acquaintance to participate in any interaction where the conversation partner carried notebooks or picture cards or asked content-seeking questions.


Relational Goal Assisted Living Facility Conversation Partner Global Deterioration Scale Demonstrative Pronoun 
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© Boyd H. Davis and Cynthia Bernstein 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Boyd H. Davis
  • Cynthia Bernstein

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